As a butcher, the Meat Hook’s Brent Young has made, by his own estimate, “many, many, many, many burgers.” At his Brooklyn restaurant Cozy Royale, that burger is dry-aged and topped with raclette and bacon jam, or — as part of a recent collaboration series — reinterpreted all sorts of ways by guest chefs (see this recent al pastor burger).
But for a cookout, Young takes a more streamlined approach. “I like making things easy, accessible, and delicious,” he says. Hence this classic burger recipe, which Young describes as a “foolproof fastball.” It’s a simple burger, he swears, that gets everyone excited.
When it comes to cooking techniques, “for me, nothing beats charcoal,” Young says. You can get great results grilling anywhere — even at those little public park setups — so long as you don’t skimp on the coals, which allow you to get the grill “super ripping hot,” Young says. (While gas grills will do the job if you have no alternative, they don’t get hot enough for Young’s liking.)
When you plan to grill, Young recommends a slightly smaller, thicker patty. Six ounces — as opposed to the more common 8 or 10 — is a satisfying sweet spot. “All you want to do is flip it once,” he says. “You can’t get a good char in under two minutes, so you have to know that your flame is hot enough before you put the burger on. Your patty should be thick enough so it actually cooks a little bit — and doesn’t overcook — while you’re trying to get that nice char on the outside.” Using a fattier-than-average ground beef blend, in the 70 to 80 percent range, helps ensure a proper char without drying out.
A burger this straightforward calls for classic sides as well. Young’s fave? Potato salad or macaroni salad. Now, go forth and grill — wherever the summer takes you.
Meat Hook Burger Recipe
Makes 4 burgers
1½ pounds fresh ground beef, 70 to 80 percent lean
Salt, to taste
½ red onion, thinly sliced
4 slices cheddar cheese
4 sesame seed buns (preferably Big Marty’s)
Hellman’s mayonnaise, to taste
Heinz ketchup, to taste
Heinz pickle relish, to taste
1 tomato, sliced ¼-inch thick
½ head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
1 cup crispy bread and butter pickle slices
Step 1: Light a charcoal grill, and allow the briquettes to ash over. If using a gas grill, heat with the burners on high.
Step 2: Divide the meat into 4 portions (6 ounces each) using a scale. Pack each portion together, moving the meat back and forth between your hands about 5 to 6 times. Don’t overwork the meat. Shape the burgers into pucks slightly larger than the circumference of the buns (the burgers will shrink slightly on the grill). Season liberally with salt. Set the patties aside in the refrigerator.
Step 3: Rinse the onions with cold water to wash off a bit of the harsh, oniony flavor. Drain and set aside. Prepare all the other ingredients so they’re ready for assembly.
Step 4: When the grill is hot, have the burgers, spatula, and cheese at the ready. Place the burgers on the grill. Cook them for 3 minutes per side on both sides. Avoid flare-ups by moving the meat around. Get a nice sear on the burgers. The burgers are done when they have some bounce to them, not dried out, with a nice and crispy crust on the outside. They should bounce back like touching the end of your nose. Take the burgers off the grill, and rest them on a rack placed on top of a sheet tray for about 2 minutes to let the proteins settle.
Step 5: Place a slice of cheddar cheese on top of each burger while the burgers are resting so the cheese has a chance to partially melt.
Step 6: Toast the buns on the grill. Remove them from the grill, and spread your favorite condiments on the top and bottom of the buns. Place the burgers back on the grill, and cover the grill for 30 seconds, or until the cheese has melted.
Step 7: Transfer the burgers onto the buns, then top the burgers with tomato, lettuce, onions, and pickles. Serve immediately.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa and Ivy Manning